I have, on the wall of my ‘office corner’ in my kitchen, a postcard that I bought from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when I was last in D.C. It says “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.”
(please note, as well, the “what you do matters” button.)
I keep that postcard there to remind me that it is one thing to FEEL, but another thing entirely to DO. Change doesn’t happen if people are standing around, wringing their hands and clucking their tongues and lamenting the horrid state of things; change only happens when people get off their asses and work to make things better.
Yesterday, I read this post from Chookaloonks. Go read it; I’ll wait.
As an ally, I have long been conscious of the place MY voice has in the conversations about the issues and problems facing the populations for which I advocate. I am sensitive (and smart) enough to understand that, as a white, middle-class, straight, cis-gender, educated, English-speaking woman, I enjoy an incredible amount of privilege that many of my brothers and sisters don’t, and that, despite all my effort to be as aware of the effects that privilege has on my perspective as I can possibly be, there are going to be times – perhaps a lot of times – where I just don’t see what others are seeing.
It is because of this awareness that I realize I should probably talk a hell of a lot less than I listen, and so when something like Charleston happens, I tend to step back and hold my tongue. I’ll do some of the things Karen mentioned in her post; I’ll re-post newspaper articles and opinion pieces, I’ll share memes and quotes from others, but I’ll often refrain from speaking in my own voice because I recognize, with a kind of bitter ache, that as part of the majority, dominant group, my voice doesn’t need to be heard. My job, when something like this happens, is to try to wedge out space for the voices of the people who are affected by the violence, the marginalization, and the discrimination that creates these situations in the first place. My job is to listen to those people.
Karen’s post got me thinking about that stance, though, and I was instantly reminded of the postcard on my wall when I read her words. “SAY SOMETHING,” she says, “make it clear, in your own words — not just retweeting or resharing the words of Jon Stewart or someone else — tell folks how you feel. Take a stand, for heaven’s sake.”
I like to think that no one with even a passing familiarity with me could imagine for even a moment that I don’t abhor, loudly and vehemently, every single aspect of our culture that separates people from one another and allows us to denigrate, demean, and even kill each other. I despise the pernicious mechanisms in nearly every aspect of our culture – our military, our economic system, and especially our “justice” and “education” systems – that keep some people down while making it easier for others to enjoy opportunity and potential. More than that, I rail against the culture of ignorance that allows these mechanisms to remain in force; the insistence of some that we don’t even have a problem, much less that they could be in any way responsible for it. This actually energizes a large part of my teaching practice; I expend a great deal of thought and effort into teaching my children – both biological and academic – to shun the kind of ignorance that allows us to hate one another so casually and so tragically.
So, right here and right now, I want to make sure that I have been exceedingly, transparently, obviously, and painfully clear about where I stand on issues of equality and human dignity. When I say I’m an ally, I mean it; I’m all in, and I stand at the ready to do more than just talk about it.